Australian Cinema        
Andrew Meredith
Film Review: Alexandra’s Project (2003)
Director: Rolf De Heer

PART 1

Principal Cast and Credits
This information was found on the films official website at:
http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/alex.html

Director/ Scriptwriter
Rolf De Heer

Producers
Rolf De Heer        
Julie Ryan
Domenico Procacci

Executive Producer
Antonio Zeccola

Co-producers
Sue Murray
Bryce Menzies

Director of Photography
Ian Jones, ACS

Film Editor
Tania Nehme
        
Composer
Graham Tardif

Sound Design
James Currie
Andrew Plain
Nada Mikas

Hair/Make-up/Wardrobe
Beverley Freeman

Associate Producer
Nils Erik Nielsen

Cast
Steve         -         Gary Sweet
Alexandra-                  Helen Buday
Bill-                  Bogdan Koca

Release Dates
This information was found on the internet movie database at:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338706/

Germany -14 February 2003 (Berlin International Film Festival)
Argentina -17 April 2003 (Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema)
Australia - 8 May 2003
France - 16 May 2003 (Cannes Film Festival)
Germany - 14 August 2003 (Hamburg Fantasy Filmfest)
USA - 29 August 2003 (Telluride Film Festival)
Canada - 4 September 2003 (Toronto Film Festival)
Hungary - 15 October 2003 (Titanic International Filmpresence Festival)
Spain - 27 October 2003 (Valladolid International Film Festival)
Netherlands - 6 November 2003
Italy - 21 November 2003
Poland - 23 January 2004
Belgium - 13 March 2004 (Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films)
Belgium - 17 March 2004
Mexico - 23 April 2004 (Mexico City)
UK - 8 May 2004 (Commonwealth Film Festival)
Mexico - 20 August 2004         (Guadalajara)
Finland - 3 September 2004
Mexico - 24 September 2004         (limited)
USA         11 November 2004         (Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival)
USA         18 February 2005         (limited)

 

 

 

Box Office Figures
This information was found at the box office mojo at:
http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=alexandrasproject.htm
Unfortunately only the local box office figures were available.

Domestic Total Gross: $752,148
Opening Weekend: 37,078 (10 theatres, $3,707 average)
Percentage of Total Gross:  4.9%

Interviews with Filmmakers
There are only a limited amount of interviews with people involved in the film. However the interviews found were through a Google web search at:
www.google.com

One of these is an interview with De Heer at the Australian Film Corporation webpage:
http://www.afc.gov.au/newsandevents/afcnews/converse/rolf_deheer/newspage_135.aspx

Another was ‘Shooting to thrill: an interview with Rolf de Heer’ from metro magazinecan be found at:http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PAM/is_137/ai_106732192

There is also an Interview with Rolf De Heer and many other people involved in the film on the films official website in relation to the production notes:
http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/information.php?film_id=2&display=notes

Reviews in newspapers
These reviews were also mostly found through a search on Google and the Rotten Tomatoes website at:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alexandras_project/about.php

These included Slant Magazine:
http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/film_review.asp?ID=1336

The New York Times:
http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=282971
The Sunday times (available at):
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/click/movie-1142561/reviews.php?critic=columns&sortby=default&page=2&rid=1136635

The San Francisco Chronicle:
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/01/14/DDG6UAPOJK1.DTL

The Hollywood Reporter:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1818377

The Denver Post:
http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E82%257E2675782,00.html

The Sydney Morning Herald:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/07/1052280321092.html?oneclick=true

 

Film's on-line presence in the web literature
Alexandra’s Project’s online presence is mostly in the form of reviews such as newspaper reviews (as listed above), and online only reviews. Some of these are at:

Discovery Media;
http://gallery.discoverymedia.com.au/artzinePub/story.asp?id=178&section=FilmReviews

In Film;
http://www.infilm.com.au/reviews/alexandrasproject.htm

And Quick Flix:
http://www.quickflix.com.au/public/tools/viewmovie/AlexandrasProject/14452.aspx

 

Alexandra’s Project is also present in movie databases and review databases such as:
Meta Critic;
http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/alexandrasproject

Rotten Tomatoes;
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alexandras_project/about.php

And of course, the Internet Movie Database:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338706/

 

The films official webpage at:
 http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/alex.html

is also very in depth and gives a great amount of information including a synopsis, production notes, festivals and awards, reviews, a cast list, a crew list, and a film diary. There is also a audio visual section with film clips and pictures.



PART 2

Critical Review

The film Alexandra's Project, directed by Rolf De Heer examines the issue of sexual politics in marriage through a confrontation between a husband and wife after years of marriage. The film takes the viewer of the film into the home of the family as the wife Alexandra, played by Helen Buday seeks revenge on her Husband Steve, played by Gary Sweet. This is played out through a video tape left for him on his birthday, which reveals the extent of Alexandra's dissatisfaction with the marriage, and true feelings towards Steve. The film successfully creates a threatening, claustrophobic, dark atmosphere within the family home, as Steve is forced to watch the tape and face his actions over the period of the marriage, and his life. The film has had somewhat mixed critical reaction as the divisive and abrasive nature of the plot creates oppositional readings of the text; and the limited physical boundaries of the film, (mostly in one room) limit the story development. Due to the limited appeal of the film it has not made a huge impact upon the box office, however the film was made under limited circumstances and with a fairly low budget. As such the limited target audience has not being a problem and promoted a more challenging film than otherwise. Alexandra's Project continues the challenging nature of De Heer’s past work, is probably best placed into the category of Australian Gothic cinema and has shown great maturity of the people involved in the production. This shows that Australian cinema at present is failing at targeting mass audience appeal, however is able to produce successful low budget cinema with positive results.

The film opens travelling through the streets of the middle class Australian suburb in which the film takes place, leading up the Alexandra and Steve’s house. The early scenes in the film portray their family life, with Steve and Alexandra filling the traditional roles within the family as provider and housewife. It's Steve's birthday and Alexandra is planning a surprise for when he gets home. Steve goes to work at an office, where he ends up getting a promotion. At the end of the day he returns home, expecting a surprise party, only to find an empty, locked up, dark house and a video tape with the labe 'play me'. The tape starts as a happy birthday message from Alexandra and their children until the children leave and Alexandra starts to strip for the camera. The music stops though and the rest of the tape is Alexandra's revenge on Steve, as she lets loose a torrent of abuse at him for years of mistreatment during their marriage, revealing the extent she has being affected by this. Alexandra at one stage reveals she has breast cancer before retracting the claim. She also reveals she has being prostituting herself, and has sex with their home security selling next door neighbour Bill, on camera. Eventually the tape becomes a live feed from next door and there is a gun pointed at Steve. The film climaxes with Steve trying to escape his entrapment within the house to catch Alexandra before she leaves Steve with no evidence of their children ever existing. He goes through the ceiling and ends up in Bills house. However invariably he isn't successful and is only left with a small amount of footage of the children on the tape.

Alexandra's Project creates a very unique situation in which to examine Australian society and the sexual politics that lie beneath the surface. The film creates characters which fill the accepted roles within society, however strips away all societal constraints to what is mostly a one way monologue, revealing the problems at the basis of their relationship. Steve is set up as representing the archetypal and accepted Australian male. He is the families’ provider, he's hard working, confident and successful. This is shown in the early scenes of the families’ home life and Steve's workplace, where he is promoted. However he is presented as being arrogant, quite boorish and patronising. When the video tape roles the result of his attitude and the effects of this on Alexandra are shown. However the film does not only judge Steve’s actions. Alexandra is intentionally portrayed as somewhat unreasonable. She is fulfilling the accepted female role in Australian society, and after years of unhappiness and repression, her feelings have exploded in the form of this 'project'. Yet the film questions why Alexandra has repressed her feelings for so long. As such the audience at times feels sympathy for each of the characters. The result of this is not meant to be a judgement of each of the characters, but more of an examination of what is accepted in Australian society and the politics of this.

The critical uptake of Alexandra's Project was fairly mixed, with some reviewers praising the films challenging nature, the new take on the issues and themes presented, the performances of the cast, and the direction of the film. However other reviewers felt the film presented an unrealistic situation, and struggled to understand the actions of Alexandra and therefore felt the film was unsuccessful in creating what they perceived as the intended reading. Some reviewers also felt the film lacked story development and was limited by the unique situation presented by the film. An example of a positive review of the film was in the Sunday Times (Harvey, 2003) which describes the film as "confronting, provocative psychosexual thriller that proves less is more" and describes Helen Buday’s performance as "a tour de force of emotional intensity". However the review also agrees with one of the major points used in negative reviews, saying that Steve’s actions "seems too mild to drive such revenge-driven rage in Alexandra". One negative review which relies on this conclusion is the review by John McMurtrie in the San Francisco Chronicle (2005) which claims that De Heer "would have us believe that a wife who's tired of her oblivious bloke of a husband could suddenly become conniving and cruel, coolly defending her actions with twisted logic that's sold as feminism". These mixed reviews indicate that the film has a divisive effect on the audience due to the challenging nature of the story. They also point to the fact that the film had a limited target audience upon release, aimed at appealing to audiences wishing to be challenged by the film.

Alexandra's Project was filmed in Adelaide, South Australia between March 2002 and May 2002 and was released in Australia in May 2003. The film was funded by Palace Films, Fandango Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation with a budget of approximately two million Australian dollars. Other Australian films released in 2003 included Bad Eggs, Danny Deckchair, Fat Pizza, Gettin' Square, Japanese Story, The Rage in Placid Lake, Ned, Ned Kelly, Undead, Thunderstruck, Take Away, and The Night We Called It a Day. Despite some decent films being released 2003 was not a very successful year for Australian film and was continued the following year. At the box office, Alexandra's Project locally made $752,148 gross with 37,078 being made on the opening weekend, however with international would have made back the budget of the production. As a result this would be considered a success, whilst other higher budgeted films would have being considered unsuccessful despite appealing to a wider audience.

Rolf De Heer's films have always being challenging and dealt with dark themes. Alexandra's Project, De Heer's tenth feature film is a continuation of this trend in his work. De Heer’s most famous film, Bad Boy Bubby examined deep questions of life and death through a man in his thirties experiencing life outside of an apartment for the first time. This ear marked him as one of Australia's best film makers, however, since then De Heer's work has continued to challenge audiences. For example, The Quiet Room (1996)examined family relationships; while The Tracker (2002) examined Australia's dark racial history. Alexandra's Project is probably De Heer's most aesthetically challenging work since Bad Boy Bubby, however it does not rely on shock value to create meaning as the characters actions are part of the wider story created.

This film would be best classified as Australian gothic. The film examines the dark areas that lie under the surface of everyday Australian life in a similar way to other Australian gothic films such as The Cars that Ate Paris (1974) and The Night The Prowler (1978). This is established in the early scenes, where the viewer sees the way the main characters relate within their normal everyday life as they try to live up to the expectations of Australian society. However as the film progresses, and the characters face challenges, the things that drive their activities in everyday life are torn away and the things that lie beneath this are revealed. Alexandra's Project differentiates itself from most Australian gothic films as it solely examines the underlying sexual politics of Australian life, without really examining death (a common theme in gothic cinema) whatsoever. It also takes the perspective of character that are already accepted by Australian society, becoming disenchanted with it, as opposed to characters looking to understand Australian society in order to find acceptance.

As Australian film is not creating huge mainstream interest, it is only films with lower budgets that are able to be successful. This also produces more interesting films, such as Alexandra's Project due to the lower amount at risk. The uptake of Alexandra's Project has being in more 'niche' markets than mainstream cinema due to the challenging nature of the film. However the low budget it was produced on has made it a success. The lack of recent success of Australian film has being mostly due to a desire to gain mass appeal without the resources to do so consistently. As such medium budget films are made and targeted at mainstream audiences, where there is less of a market for Australian films. If Australian cinema focussed on low-budget 'niche' market films such as Alexandra Project then there would be more chance of success. In turn this would hopefully restimulate the Australian film industry before attempts to target mainstream audiences can be made. The Australian film industry seems constantly to be looking for 'The' film to restimulate the industry. However stimulation is more likely to come from a group of low-budget successes.

Alexandra’s Project represents the possible success that the Australian film industry can create. Although the film was not a widespread popular success at the box office and only received mixed reviews, the low budget that it was made on meant that it was able to create enough interest to become a success. This was done through an interesting script, solid performance, and great directing. The film examined the dark issues of sexual politics which lie under the surface of Australian society and challenges what is accepted and promoted by that society. This is done through Steve and Alexandra as they are confronted by the reality of their marriage. The film marks a continuation of the challenging nature and dark themes of director Rolf de Heer’s career and fits into the category of Australian gothic cinema due to the way in which it examines everyday Australian life and the dark nature of this. De Heer’s career as a film maker has being one of the continuing successes of the Australian film industry and shows how this industry can restimulate itself and become successful.